SCARBOROUGH — Gustave H. “Gus” Tillman Jr., 80, died peacefully at home Aug. 24, surrounded by his family.
Tillman was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, the son of Gustave Sr. and Anna Tillman. At age 13, he began a life-long career in the hotel industry, working at his sister’s resort in the Pocono Mountains. He knew at a young age that this type of work was the career he wanted.
Besides working at the resort during his teenage years, Tillman participated in his high school band, played football and acted in his senior play. He graduated near the top of his class and was one of only a few students accepted to Pennsylvania State University without completing an entrance exam. During his college years, he managed the resort each summer in order to pay tuition.
Tillman participated in many activities while attending Penn State’s school of hotel management. He represented the school at American Hotel & Lodging Association meetings, participated in state legislative dinners, and was chairman of the Penn State Hotel Greeters Association. In 1956, he was inducted into the Sigma Phi Eta National Hotel Honor Society, one of only six accepted from Penn State.
After graduating from the university in 1958, Tillman managed his sister’s resort as well as hotels in Florida and Texas. In 1963, he was offered a position by the American Hotels chain to manage the Lafayette Hotel in Portland.
At the time, the hotel was slated for a multimillion-dollar renovation. When the renovation never happened, Tillman accepted a job offer from the owner of Harper Hotels to oversee the new Holiday Inn on Riverside Street in the city. This was the first Holiday Inn – and the first franchised hotel – in Maine.
In 1972, Tillman was instrumental in bringing Holiday Inn by the Bay to downtown Portland. The establishment of this flagship property helped spark the development of the Old Port and the Arts District. For a time, Tillman managed both Holiday Inn properties in Portland, and in 1986 became their director of operations. When they were sold to Lafayette Hotels in 2009, Tillman continued in that role and was responsible for overall operations until his death.
Even when hospitalized, he insisted on having his computer and cell phone handy so he could keep in touch with his employees. Linda, his wife, and Kristyn, his daughter, assisted him in sales for many years. Tillman often said that the last five years were some of the happiest of his working life.
Under his leadership, Holiday Inn by the Bay has consistently been recognized as one of the top Holiday Inn properties in the country, winning numerous distinctions including three Torchbearer Awards. The Torchbearer Award is given only to the top 10 Holiday Inn franchises in the Americas.
Tillman believed succeeding in the hotel business required active involvement in the community and in the industry. His own awards attest to that involvement. He received the Maine Innkeepers Association’s Innkeeper of the Year Award three times, the only person ever to win the award more than once.
He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Maine Restaurant Association, and was inducted into the Maine Tourism Association’s Hall of Fame. In addition, he received awards from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Portland Chamber of Commerce and other civic and hospitality organizations.
Tillman also helped to establish and to lead many of these groups, and saw to it that Holiday Inn by the Bay played a role in the community by supporting institutions such as the Portland Museum of Art, the Portland Pirates Hockey Team and the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
Tillman is survived by his wife of 48 years, Linda; a son, Hugh Tillman, and wife, Lainie, of Kailua, Hawaii; his daughter, Kristyn, of Portland; and two grandchildren, Greyson and Theresa. He was predeceased by his parents and his three older sisters, Caroline, Audrey and Thelma.
Visiting hours were held Aug. 28 at Conroy-Tully Crawford South Portland Chapel, and a Mass of Christian burial was celebrated Aug. 29 at Holy Cross Church, in South Portland. Interment was at Calvary Cemetery, followed by a reception at Holiday Inn by the Bay.
In lieu of flowers, those who wish may make gifts in Tillman’s memory to the Lafayette Family Foundation, 155 Littlefield Ave., Bangor, ME 04401.